War & the Noble Savage
Over the past decade or so, works such as Stephen Pinker's 'The Blank Slate' and Lawrence H. Keeley's 'War Before Civilization' have attacked the idea that indigenous and prehistoric societies were more peaceable than modern states. This brief study surveys this recent literature, digging beneath polarized surfaces using less publicized anthropological scholarship. The debate's age-old frame, emerging from an opposition between Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "Noble Savage" and Thomas Hobbes' vision of primitive life as "nasty, brutish and short," is analyzed afresh, and related fields, such as studies of chimpanzee violence, are reviewed. Also included is a look at the closely entwined recent controversy over whether tribal cultures have an ecological record as spotless as that often attributed to them.